Ask not why bad things happen to good people, ask what good people do when bad things happen to them

One of the oldest philosophical questions is, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Gita wisdom answers by using and extending the widespread understanding of causality, as enshrined in sayings such as, “As you sow, so shall you reap.” By introducing the principle of reincarnation, it explains how the action-reaction sequence extends to before birth and after death. 

This principle of extended causality is arguably the most satisfactory, or the least unsatisfactory, explanation for the problem of evil. Nonetheless, the Gita doesn’t use this principle as a magic wand to explain away the problem of evil. It acknowledges that the movements of karma are so intricate as to frequently elude human understanding (04.17). 

Consequently, the Gita’s focus is not so much on karma, accountable action, as on dharma, the right thing to do. It urges us to look at the way great souls have lived in order to attain elevation and liberation — and to emulate their example (04.17). The principles taught in the Gita are expounded in bhakti texts such as the Srimad-Bhagavatam, which gives several narratives of what good people do when bad things happen to them. Right from the king Parikshit who is cursed to die in seven days for a minor infraction to a child whose father goes on a mission to murder him for no fault except his devotion, the Bhagavatam stresses that devotional virtue centered on devotional absorption in the divine is the best way to tolerate and transcend evil whenever it befalls us.

If we too learn to change our driving question to how can we respond best when the worst happens, we will find divine guidance from within showing us a way to light even amid overwhelming darkness.

Think it over:

  • How does the Gita address the problem of evil?
  • How does the Gita equip us to deal with life’s distresses?
  • How can we change our driving question amid distress? What difference will that make?


04.15 All the liberated souls in ancient times acted with this understanding of My transcendental nature. Therefore you should perform your duty, following in their footsteps.

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